State of Decay 2 Review – Gravely Underwhelming

The original State of Decay was released all the way back in 2013 on the Xbox 360. It was an ugly, buggy mess, but I still played countless hours of it, especially when the DLC ‘campaigns’ came out. I’ve been eagerly awaiting the sequel ever since its announcement, but now that it’s finally here, is it the game I hoped it would be?

State of Decay 2
Publisher: Microsoft Studios
Developer: Undead Labs
Platform: Windows 10 (Reviewed), Xbox One
Release Date: May 22nd, 2018
Players: 1-4 Player Co-op
Price: $29.99

Getting this game running on Windows 10 during launch day was a serious ordeal. The game would say it was downloading, but it was clearly hanging somewhere around 20 megabytes for about a half hour. I tried everything—making sure Windows was fully updated, trying a few workarounds I found online, the whole nine yards. Mysteriously, it started working out of the blue after I’d given up.

Once it had finally installed, I booted the game up…and it crashed to desktop. I tried it again, and the same thing happened. I restarted my computer, booted it up, crash. As much as I was loathe to start the whole annoying cycle over again, I uninstalled the game and tried downloading it once more. The same download issue happened, but after manually restarting the Windows store about five times, it began to move.

This time, I got to the main menu. When prompted to press any key, I clicked on the screen, and my game crashed. At this point, I was about to tear my hair out, but upon restarting the game, it appeared to be functioning for the time being.

Right from the get-go, I could tell there were some issues. The very first thing I noticed was that State of Decay 2 isn’t the best looking game. The character models, textures, and environments all look noticeably dated. Despite using Unreal Engine 4 instead of CryEngine 3.1, the performance and visual quality haven’t improved as much as one might expect, though the lighting is definitely much better this time around.

It also seems like they tried to add soft body physics to the cars, but sort of gave up halfway. When your vehicles get damaged, it almost appears as if the chassis is made of crumpled-up tinfoil. It looks really bad.

So it’s not a looker, big deal. How’s the sound design? Well, thankfully, that’s a place where State of Decay 2 shines. The guns sound great, definitely an improvement over the original. Strikes with melee weapons also have a meaty thwack to them that satisfies, making stealth kills and grounded finishers all the more entertaining.

Jesper Kyd also reprises his role as the composer, a man who I’m convinced is a god at this point. Every game he touches ends up with a brilliant soundtrack—though, in this game’s case, I couldn’t help but feel like his score was underutilized. It’s always awesome when the music kicks in, but it kicks in very infrequently.

The story in State of Decay 2 is…well, it’s there, I guess. Most of the narrative is told through survivors you recruit into your faction, who send you on random quests. The overarching plot is actually less developed than it was in the first game, though I don’t really mind. Story isn’t the reason I played the first one so much, but it would’ve been nice to have something substantial to write about here.

The gameplay is a mixed bag. For one, there is definitely no shortage of stuff to do. Whether you’re handling quests for other factions of survivors, going out on supply runs, or raiding infested buildings, you always have something that needs your attention. This can lull you into the false sense that the game has some sort of urgency about it, but you’d be wrong.

I was running low on food, and realized my survivors ate up a substantial amount per day, leading me to rush out in search of a rucksack full of cooking supplies. That’s when I discovered just how long a day lasts in State of Decay 2. If you’re running out of any crucial resource, you have basically all the time in the world to hunt it down.

The other survivor factions also constantly ask you for supplies, and after awhile, I just started ignoring them. They got annoyed with me and would send me passive-aggressive messages, and my other survivors even complained about me not helping them, but it didn’t have any actual effect on the game.

Forming alliances with the other survivors really isn’t as crucial as I hoped it would be. Sure, you miss out on trading with them if you bail on their requests, but the only people actually worth trading with are the special merchants that show up randomly on the map. Normal groups of survivors usually only sell decent loot, but the prices are rarely worth it.

Speaking of prices, the rate at which you acquire Influence [the game’s currency] is a bit wonky. In the original, you’d get most of your Influence from bringing back rucksacks of supplies, putting items in the supply locker, and completing missions. In this game, you get a trivial amount of Influence from bringing back supplies and doing missions, but a metric ton of it from selling fruit loops to random strangers. It feels…off.

The gunplay and melee combat are improved from the first game, though only slightly. Guns handle a bit better, but the zoom function is weird, to say the least. It looks like the character just holds the gun closer to their head when they zoom, which is almost comical to behold. The camera sensitivity also is completely different when in precision mode, though you can mercifully change that in the menus.

Melee is a little tighter this time around, and the finishers and animations in general look leagues better. There are also a few new moves you can execute when you’ve leveled your skills up enough, such as a spinning cleave attack and a running slash. It’s still as button mashy as ever, though.

Undead Labs have added in a new feature in 2, known as the Blood Plague. If your character is hit by zombies carrying it [denoted by their red, glowing eyes], a meter will fill up. When it reaches full, you contract the disease. The only two solutions to the Blood Plague are curing it, or putting a bullet in your fellow survivor’s head.

This sounds great on paper, but much like the supplies in game, it fails to add that sense of urgency. The cure simply requires five samples of plague tissue and an infirmary to make, something that is trivially easy to come by. I had something like 40 tissue samples in my storage area without even trying, and only had to make a cure twice in my whole playthrough. Once in the tutorial phase, and once to cure an NPC in a scripted event.

The home bases seem really cool and complex on paper, but once you choose a second location to move to, the cracks begin to show. I was excited to see how the sequel built upon the honestly barebones base building features from the original game, but there really isn’t much variation going on.

I went from a small house to a concrete plant, which had more space to build facilities and expand. It was a great feeling at first, until I realized that it didn’t really make much of a difference. Once I had enough beds for everyone and the same useful facilities from my initial house built, it didn’t seem like I had much room to grow, despite the extra slot or two. The huge fuel storage was nice, though.

And you’ll need it. The cars in State of Decay 2 have quite possibly the worst gas mileage imaginable. You can’t even do a single lap around one of the three in-game maps without having to refuel. I actually quite like the fact that you have to repair/refuel your cars, but I think the latter could have been toned down quite a bit.

You also have to manually transport your supplies from the trunk of your car now, which I didn’t figure out until several hours in. I was carrying each individual bag up to my supply room, which was insanely tedious. If there was a tutorial prompt telling you how to do this, I missed it. It used to be automatic.

Another missed opportunity was the noise meter—when building facilities and running generators, your base produces sound. Sound attracts zombies. Periodically, you’ll be alerted to the fact that your base is under siege. I rushed back home the first time it happened, my heart racing. Were zeds gonna overrun my base? How many survivors was I going to lose?

As it turns out, none. If you’ve got more than a few guys and gals back at base with guns, they do a bang-up job of keeping things safe. You really don’t have to worry about zombie sieges at all, actually. I couldn’t help but feel like State of Decay 2 was pulling punches, which would have been alright if there was a hard mode to speak of. But there isn’t. Just like the first game, it’s too damn easy.

The multiplayer is another thing I was seriously looking forward to. The original State of Decay felt like it should have been a co-op game, despite only having singleplayer. Thankfully, it is fun to play the sequel with some buddies, but it’s not without issues. Connectivity bugs, and input lag are unfortunate realities, but the intrinsic limitations of this game’s co-op are definitely annoying too.

You are tethered to the host player, which makes it so you can’t stray too far from him/her. I honestly thought this would be a big deal, but I never noticed it in-game. What I did notice was that my progress in a friend’s hosted game didn’t carry over to my own, though I was able to bring back all the items I looted from his ‘server.’ When raiding a building, there will be seperate containers for each player to loot.

Speaking of bugs, there’s a lot of ’em. There’s stuff like zombies running around in circles forever, cars doing triple backflips after hitting tiny rocks, doors not being open despite appearing open, inability to use the host’s facilities in multiplayer…It was clear this game needed a little more time in the oven. The most irritating bug I experienced more than once was my follower disappearing entirely.

My ally was next to me on the minimap, but I couldn’t see him. He also didn’t help me in combat at all, and I couldn’t recruit another helper since I already technically had one. As far as I’m aware, the only way to get rid of this bug is to go back to the main menu and load your game, which doesn’t exactly lend itself well to immersion.

State of Decay 2 is a game that needed more time, and Microsoft is starting to get a bad reputation for pushing titles like this out the door before they’re good and polished. I don’t claim to know exactly what went wrong with the game, but it’s clearly not where it should be.

What you have, at the end of the day, is a slightly better version of the original State of Decay, with a few added bugs and annoyances sprinkled on top. If you played the first game to death, I honestly can’t recommend this title, since it treads almost the exact same ground the first did. If you didn’t, you might find some enjoyment in this one, doubly so if you already have Game Pass and can install it for free.

If this game was given a $60 price tag like Sea of Thieves, I would have been even more unforgiving of its shortcomings. As it stands, it’s a fun enough budget title that fails to live up to the expectation of fans, including myself. I wanted a game that expanded on all the good things from SoD 1 and fixed some of the issues. What I got was basically a retread with a new coat of paint.

State of Decay 2 was reviewed on Windows 10 using a review copy purchased by Niche Gamer. You can find additional information about Niche Gamer’s review/ethics policy here.

The Verdict: 6

The Good:

  • Composed by Jesper Kyd, ’nuff said
  • Core gameplay loop can be addictive
  • No shortage of stuff to do
  • A few improvements and QOL fixes over the first game
  • Able to be played for $10 [Or a free trial] with Game Pass
  • Up to 4-player co-op is a nice addition to the package

The Bad:

  • Same grindy, repetitive game as the first
  • Sub-par graphics
  • A myriad of bugs bring down the experience
  • No real sense of urgency, everything is manageable
  • Way too easy
  • Multiplayer has issues
  • New features feel like afterthoughts
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